Nava Atlas’s beautifully produced cookbook, 5 Ingredient Vegan, 175 Simple, plant-based recipes for delicious, healthy meals in minutes (Sterling Epicure, New York, NY, 2019) could not have arrived at a better time. It was the beginning of our Covid-19 lockdown. We suddenly had more mouths to feed with few take-out options.
Home cooking went from a pleasant, creative activity to a daily chore. It was too early for the local produce we rely on and we were thrown onto the irregular provisions at our nearby grocery store.
Atlas’s cookbook provided much-needed variety and inspiration. Her tasty, plant-based recipes are designed to be simple (no more than 5 ingredients) and range from snacks (skillet-roasted chickpeas) to tofu, pasta, and grain main courses to fruits and sweets.
I prepared the sweet-potato bisque, tofu scramble, roasted butternut squash, and two Asian noodle dishes, and a couple of salads. All the recipes I tried were well organized, quick, and easy to prepare and the abundant photos definitely gave me cooking ideas when I needed them.
Though the salad recipes were inspired, our family found the others lacking. As an experienced home cook, with an adventurous spirit, I was disappointed that Atlas ignores basic cooking techniques, like reduction, to intensify flavor or add complexity to a dish. The results were often bland, even with the use of bottled sauces and sprinkles of hot sauce.
I also realized, as I worked though the recipes, that to achieve a full meal you need to string together a couple of 30-minute recipes — so the promised efficiency vanishes. It would have been helpful to include “make-ahead” tips or cooking techniques to her useful introductory section.
Despite its shortcomings, I believe this cookbook would be a great gift for a young person or new cook who is looking to expand their vegan repertoire beyond stir fry and pre-packaged vegan meals in the grocery store. Experienced cooks will want to use the recipes as starting points and apply their skills or research similar recipes online.
(Laura Shore, 6/23/20)
[Editor’s Note (FWB): Nava Atlas went vegan in the early 2000’s, and on her website she notes concisely the reasons for her decision in Great Reasons To Go Vegan: For the Planet, The Animal & Yourself.]